Makes 16 to 20 servings
King Cake, a time-honored Mardi Gras dessert, is a lightly sweetened yeast bread decorated with thin frosting and bands of colored sugar crystals. Mardi Gras colors are purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power. Although lemon zest is traditional for King Cake, I’ve used orange zest and calendula in this version.
• ⅔ cup milk
• ½ cup dried OR ¾ cup fresh calendula petals
• ½ cup warm water
• Generous teaspoon honey
• 1½ tablespoons active dry yeast
• About 4 cups unbleached flour
• 1 cup whole-wheat flour
• ⅓ cup sugar
• 1½ teaspoons salt
• 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
• 1 scant teaspoon mace
• Zest of 1 orange
• 4 extra-large egg yolks, lightly beaten
• 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, softened
• Glaze: 1 egg slightly beaten with 2 teaspoons milk
To make dough: In a small saucepan, combine milk and calendula and heat to a bare simmer. Remove pan from heat and allow liquid to cool. (When flour is added later, liquid should be warm—not hot or cold.)
Measure warm water into a glass measuring cup, add honey and stir. Sprinkle with yeast and stir. Set in a warm place for about 10 minutes, until yeast foams up and nearly doubles in volume.
Meanwhile, combine flours, sugar, salt, cinnamon and mace in a large bowl and toss to mix. Make a well in the center and pour in yeast mixture and warm calendula milk. (If necessary, gently reheat milk to warm.) Add zest, egg yolks and butter and stir with a wooden spoon until ingredients are well-mixed. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead—pushing and pulling with your fingers—for 5 to 10 minutes to form a large ball. Dust work surface lightly with flour, if necessary, to prevent sticking. Dough should be shiny, elastic and not sticky.
Lightly oil or butter a large bowl and place dough in bowl; rotate ball so that top is lightly oiled. Cover bowl with a clean, damp kitchen towel and set in a warm spot for about 1 1/2 hours, or until dough doubles in size.
To shape cake: Punch down dough, remove it from the bowl and place on lightly floured surface. Knead lightly, then shape into a cylinder about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter and 20 to 24 inches long.
Twist cylinder (like you are wringing it) a few times and pinch ends together to form a large circle. Place on a baking sheet and cover with a towel. Set in a warm spot for another 45 minutes until doubled in size. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Using a pastry brush, spread egg-and-milk glaze over entire cake. Bake in the center of oven for 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Cool cake on wire rack.
• 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon water
• Green, purple and yellow sugar sprinkles
Beat sugar, butter, lemon juice and water until smooth to make a soft icing. If icing is too stiff, add a bit more water; if too soft, add a bit more sugar. Spread icing on cool cake, then immediately add sugar sprinkles. (If you wait, they won’t stick.)
Contributing Editor Susan Belsinger frequently writes about the many aspects of herbs, especially using them in cooking.
For the main article, Calendula Officinalis: Herb of the Year 2008, click here.